Oil on Linen 91 x 72cm
The Witch of Positano(Vali Myers)
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Let it all be animal, my life and death, hard and clean like that, anything but human …a lot I care, me with my red heart in the dark earth and my tattooed feet following the animal ways.”
Vali Myers was an Australian artist who lived a life that was anything but conventional. Coming into adulthood after World War II, conservative values and gender roles shaped the lives of most women, keeping them within the confines of child rearing and domesticity. Vali self-described as being anything but normal and she lived her life in that way working as an artist, immersed in nature, and preferring the company of animals to people. She spent a large portion of her life living in the hills of Il Porto, on the outskirts of Positano in Italy, with her large family of animals, including donkeys, mice, toads and even snakes. Her outsider ways and appearance frightened the conservative and superstitious locals of Il Porto, led her to become known to them as the Witch of Positano. For rural Italy of the sixties and seventies, she must have been a sight with her big, knotty hair, heavily kohled eyes and facial tattoos.
During her time in Il Porto she really honed her artistic practice through repeated self-portraiture, using totemistic and animal motifs to explore complex themes of identity and spiritual experience, creating mythopoeic works, not unlike Blake or the Art Nouveau artists, but highly individualistic and personal. She used quill nibs and feathers to apply ink to paper, meticulously rendered in line, dots and colour washes of reds and ochres. Her style is decorative and botanical like Art Deco or Nouveau, but surreal and unsettling. The curving figures and forms are like smoke melding into the patterned motifs rather than existing distinctly as figure and background, every space on the page filled with exquisite detail. Her palette is limited and dark, reminiscent of the earthen pigments of ancient cave art; something I have tried to emulate in this portrait.
“Always together in all kinds of weather; that’s Foxy and me”
A quote from one of Vali’s journals regarding her beloved Foxy, a vixen pup she rescued and nursed to health. They developed a special bond during this experience and Foxy became her most precious companion. She even had Foxy’s name and image tattooed on her hand in her Kantha-esque and curly style. Her love of her animals resonates in her work and journals, so I have chosen to bring together the many images of Vali and her ‘daughter’ Foxy in this portrait, borrowing from her palette and sense of pattern and decoration in my own way that emulates patterns in nature and biology that feature in my work. ERIN AMOR 2020